57 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 1995), 94-2034, Hoult v. Hoult

Docket Nº:94-2034.
Citation:57 F.3d 1
Party Name:Jennifer HOULT, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. David P. HOULT, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:May 22, 1995
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

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57 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 1995)

Jennifer HOULT, Plaintiff-Appellee,


David P. HOULT, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 94-2034.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

May 22, 1995

Heard Jan. 11, 1995.

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Edward J. Collins, Wayland, MA, for appellant.

Kevin P. O'Flaherty, with whom Adrienne M. Markham and Goulston & Storrs, Boston, MA, were on brief, for appellee.

Before TORRUELLA, Chief Judge, ALDRICH, Senior Circuit Judge, and STAHL, Circuit Judge.

TORRUELLA, Chief Judge.

Plaintiff-appellee, Jennifer Hoult, brought suit against her father, defendant-appellant, David Hoult, in the United States District Court for Massachusetts alleging, inter alia, assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. A jury returned a verdict in the amount of $500,000 for plaintiff. Defendant filed timely appeals--first, of the denial of his motion for a mistrial and, second, of the jury verdict--both of which were ultimately dismissed by this court for lack of prosecution. One year after judgment issued, defendant filed a motion for relief from judgment pursuant to Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Defendant appeals the district court's denial of that motion. For the reasons stated herein, we affirm.


Plaintiff commenced this action in July 1988 alleging, among other things, that from the time she was approximately four years old until she was approximately sixteen years old defendant sexually abused and threatened

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her. Plaintiff alleged that she had repressed all memory of the abuse until she began to recapture those memories during therapy sessions in October 1985, when she was twenty-four.

On February 2, 1993, the parties presented the case at a summary jury trial. Counsel for both parties outlined for the summary jury the evidence they expected to present at trial. The presentation by plaintiff's counsel included a summary of the expected testimony of, among others, the plaintiff, her former therapist, Eileen Jacobsen ("Jacobsen"), and her examining psychiatrist, Dr. Renee Brant ("Dr. Brant"). Defense counsel presented no expert testimony, relying instead on defendant's general denial of the charges and a refutation of the testimony of Jacobsen and Dr. Brant. Defendant prevailed on the merits at the summary jury trial.

On June 24, 1993, the case went to trial. It was tried for eight days. Both Dr. Brant and Jacobsen testified for the plaintiff. On July 1, 1993, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $500,000. On July 14, 1993, the district court entered judgment in the case. Defendant moved for a new trial, and that motion was denied in August 1993. Defendant appealed both the denial of his motion for a new trial and the judgment. Both appeals were ultimately dismissed by this court for lack of prosecution.

On July 14, 1994, exactly one year from the date of judgment, defendant, through new counsel, filed a motion to vacate the judgment. The district court denied the motion to vacate in a detailed opinion delivered from the bench at the conclusion of a hearing on defendant's motion. This appeal followed.


Defendant asserts essentially four grounds for relief from judgment under Rule 60(b). 1 We address each of these arguments seriatim below. We note at the outset that district courts enjoy broad discretion in deciding motions brought under Rule 60(b), and we review such rulings only for abuse of that discretion. See Cotto v. United States, 993 F.2d 274, 277 (1st Cir.1993); Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen & Helpers Union, Local No. 59 v. Superline Transp. Co., 953 F.2d 17, 19 (1st Cir.1992). In addition, our review is limited to the denial of the motion itself. We may not consider the merits of the underlying judgment. Ojeda-Toro v. Rivera-Mendez, 853 F.2d 25, 28 (1st Cir.1988). Finally, we note that "Rule 60(b)(6) may not be used as a back-door substitute for an omitted appeal, and, in all but the most exceptional circumstances, a party's neglect to prosecute a timeous appeal will bar relief under the rule." Cotto, 993 F.2d at 278.


Defendant's primary contention is that the trial judge erred in allowing plaintiff's expert witness, Dr. Brant, to testify with respect to the phenomenon of repressed memory in the context of childhood sexual abuse. Defendant contends that this constitutes "mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect" within the meaning of Rule 60(b)(1).

With respect to her qualifications as an expert in the areas of general psychiatry, child psychiatry, and childhood sexual abuse, Dr. Brant testified that she: is a graduate of the Harvard Medical School; has a private psychiatric practice; was a founder of the sexual abuse unit at Children's Hospital; holds a joint appointment as an instructor of medical students at Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School; serves as a consultant on the treatment of children who have

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been sexually abused; has lectured widely on the issue of the treatment and diagnosis of children who have suffered sexual abuse; and has served as an expert witness in several other actions.

Dr. Brant testified generally at trial with respect to the psychological dynamics and clinical profiles of victims of childhood sexual abuse, and also about the phenomenon of repressed memory of traumatic events. She further testified that, based on her clinical evaluation of the plaintiff, there "was a lot of correlation" between the plaintiff's "clinical presentation" and the clinical profile of a childhood sexual abuse victim.

At no time before or during either the summary jury trial or the actual jury trial did defendant object to either Dr. Brant's qualifications as an expert witness or her testimony in general. Nor did defendant present any expert testimony of his own. Instead, defense counsel vigorously cross-examined Dr. Brant, regarding both her theories and techniques in general, and her application of those theories and techniques to her evaluation of the plaintiff. Defense counsel also challenged Dr. Brant's testimony with specific articles and studies by academics and other mental health professionals. The defendant was the only witness to testify for the defense. The defense used essentially the same strategy at trial that it successfully used at the summary jury trial.

Rule 103(a) of the Federal Rules of Evidence provides that a claim of error may not be predicated on the admission of evidence unless it affects a substantial right of the party and a timely objection is made. Defendant nonetheless argues that the Supreme Court's recent decision in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., --- U.S. ----, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993), requires the district court to make a sua sponte ruling on the admissibility of expert testimony. Defendant bases this argument on the following language from Daubert:

[U]nder the [Federal Rules of Evidence], the trial judge must ensure that any and all...

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